I have found that the many little steps in Discerning God’s Will Together, the corporate discernment process that I know best, mirror the order of worship. So we are literally doing worshipful work: turning our work into worship and our worship into work. Discernment is the result of bringing our questions before God and moving with them prayerfully through the steps of worship.
Here is how I put the process and the flow of worship side by side. I’ve articulated some of the questions that might pull us through the process.
Praise and Thanksgiving
(Framing) What is God’s will for us and for our next steps as a community Christ-followers?
Let’s tell stories that celebrate how God has been at work in and through our church, as the church in the village serving…, and as a means of grace in our families and personal journeys.
What has been and continues to be the gift of God at the heart of this community of faith?
(Grounding) What is the guiding principle for our discernment of how Christ may be calling us to live out God’s mission here today? Let’s test the adequacy of our mission statement as a guiding principle—to live and serve as a community of Christ-followers growing in the love of God and neighbor for the same of the world in whuch we live.
Confession and Forgiveness
(Shedding) What stands in the way of an unreserved openness to hearing and doing God’s will for our church?
Let’s be honest with God and with each other to name any attitudes, assumptions, pre-judgments, influences, or fears that limit our openness to God on this question. Are we yet at the point of saying, “Thy will be done” here and now in this context, in and through us?” Are we ready to be unreservedly attentive and available to God and God’s direction? If not, what fears and concerns continue to hang us up? Often there is real wisdom or a warning hidden in persistent concerns.
Hearing the Word and Call
(Rooting) What does God want us to hear through scripture and tradition?
Let’s recall the sacred stories from Bible and tradition that come to mind as we tell our stories, that inform our sense of the mission, that we associate with the dilemmas we face. As we reflect on each sacred story and the interface with our common story, what wisdom and insight come out? Listen for what God is saying to us.
(Listening) Who else do we need to listen to, or listen to again? E.g. others in the church, God, the cry of the needy, our neighbors, data, church development specialists, denominational leaders, or staff persons.
Listen for what God is saying to us through all of this, and give thanks.
Responding to the Call
(Exploring) What are the paths before us? Let’s name and explore each of the paths presenting themselves thus far.
(Improving) What does each path offer at its very best? Let’s improve each of them, one by one, to be the best possible paths they can be. We do all we can to make even an option we personally dislike as viable and workable as it can be.
Prayers of the People
(Selecting) Let’s offer the options to God. One by one, let’s set them before God and listen in our hearts to God’s response along with own sense of consolation or desolation, assurance or anxiousness with each. Let’s write down where we have peace and lack of peace, affirmations and questions, in us about each option. Let’s take our thoughts and feelings to God in prayer and listen.
Let’s then share out of the silence what we heard, saw or felt.
Let’s see if we have a clear selection emerging within us as a community.
Offering and Dedication
(Closing) Let’s now name the one path that we sense and hopefully agree is the most faithful and viable option (is “right with us and right with the Spirit”–Acts 15).
Let’s be honest about our reservations, anything that prevents closure for us.
Let’s circle back to earlier steps as needed and unearth insights, cautions, or concerns that are rising to the surface until we have a sense of peace with God and one another on a common path.
(Rest) Let’s go forward in the peace and power of the Spirit to step forward with faith into the future that Christ is calling us to inhabit.
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Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church
by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen
Bible study, research, and fieldwork merge in this book of practical principles for decision making by spiritual discernment. The step-by-step approach can be used to help any size group learn a new way to make decisions—a way that is interactive, spiritual, and rooted in faith practices and community. Small groups, committees, church boards, church leaders at all levels, and seminary professors will find this book valuable.
The Wisdom of the Seasons: How the Church Year Helps Us Understand Our Congregational Stories
by Charles M. Olsen
The church year is often seen as a framework for church programs, but well-known Alban author Charles Olsen shows readers how it can be a prism through which congregations more deeply understand their own stories. By weaving together our narratives and those of Christian tradition, a congregation can clarify its identity, grow in wisdom, and discover a new vision for ministry .
Listening to God: Spiritual Formation in the Congregation
by John Ackerman
People today are less interested in thinking about God while being much more interested in knowing God, observes spiritual director and author John Ackerman, who served as a parish pastor for four decades. In this insightful book, Ackerman outlines ways congregations can promote members’ spiritual growth toward a greater intimacy with God.
Imagining Church: Seeing Hope in a World of Change
by Gary and Kim Shockley
Drawing on their more than thirty years of pastoral and church consulting experience, the Shockleys illustrate the power of imagination using personal stories born of their own quest to be faithful in ministry. They also show readers that imagining church is a shared experience among God’s people. When we imagine the church–form a mental image of what we believe the church is and ought to be–we are co-creators with the Master Designer, Chief Architect, and Greatest Creator, and can help others imagine church. They remind leaders, “If you can’t see it, neither will anyone else.”